I moved from Boston to New York City about six months ago. When I returned home recently for the first time, I found it mostly the same — except for one shining, curving building. The Encore Boston Harbor, a new $2.6 billion resort and casino, welcomed me back with open arms, 83,000 fake flowers, and 11,000 sparkly jewels.
At least this was the first spectacle I laid eyes on upon setting foot inside. In the center of the lobby stands a 15,000-pound carousel in kaleidoscopic colors, dreamed up by designer Preston Bailey. With 10 horses that spin slowly in the center of a grand floral display, it’s an aptly flamboyant introduction to the Encore.
The casino, located just beyond Boston’s borders in the city of Everett, opened to the public on June 23 after a bit of a bumpy ride. In February 2018, Steve Wynn resigned from Wynn Resorts, the company that owns the Encore, over sexual harassment allegations. Then came some hefty fines and talk of a sale. But in the end, the property opened on time — and notched just over $16.7 million in gaming revenue during its first week in business, according to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
Everett may seem like an unlikely spot for Wynn’s first U.S. casino outside of Las Vegas. The Encore is located on the site of a former chemical plant, overlooking the once-filthy Mystic River. (Wynn Resorts spent roughly $70 million on cleaning up the polluted riverfront land.) It bears a striking resemblance to Wynn’s properties in Vegas and Macau, yet it’s mere minutes from guides in Colonial garb leading tours of the Freedom Trail.
From the outside, the building beckons gamblers with two sets of gates and a blinking sign. Inside, there are gilded fixtures, marble floors, vivid mosaics, psychedelic carpets, and Murano glass chandeliers. It’s a cartoonish idea of luxury unlike anything you’ll find in New England — or, for that matter, outside of Las Vegas.
Designer Roger Thomas has put his glittering touch on every Wynn resort, the Encore included. (He calls his work “evoca-tecture.”) From Henri Matisse prints and Roy Lichtenstein pieces to a $28 million Jeff Koons sculpture of Popeye, the Encore’s art is decidedly eclectic. Its décor is a bit less varied, as most of it is shiny, gold, or both.
“He chose these chairs because they made him laugh,” says Rosie Salisbury, the Encore’s director of public relations, pointing to a pair of pink Victorian-looking seats. It’s a sentiment that can be applied to the entire place — everything is a little over-the-top, but just the right amount of amusing.
Still, there were so many hints of home. It only took one glance at the poker tables for me to spot several Red Sox and Patriots caps. At Fratelli, the Italian joint owned by local restaurateurs Frank DePasquale and Nick Varano, a waiter sported a black eye. After I posted a photo of that flower-covered carousel on Instagram, a cousin I haven’t seen in over a year DM’ed me: “Come say hi, I’ll be dealing baccarat upstairs all night.”
Wynn Resorts put a focus on local businesses while planning the property, a move the company has never tried at this scale. While the Encore has Wynn classics, like the brand’s Frank Sinatra-themed restaurant, there are also nods to Boston in the form of the North End-born Fratelli, and Oyster Bar, whose chef, John Ross, comes from the city’s famed Neptune Oyster. A bar called Waterfront serves a selection of local craft beers, including a special IPA by Woburn-based Lord Hobo. At Rare Steakhouse, a $68 lobster roll topped with truffles, caviar, and gold flakes graces the menu. Even the on-site nightclub, Mémoire, is run by a local entertainment group that operates The Grand in Boston’s Seaport neighborhood.
Of course, a casino in Boston would not be complete without the stuff America Runs On™. Past the endless rows of slot machines, there’s a Dunkin’ that was described to me as “the world’s most luxurious,” with marble countertops, cold brew on tap, and fresh flowers at each café table.
You might need an iced Dunkaccino or two to fuel a night of gaming. The property’s 210,000-square-foot casino has more than 3,100 slot machines and 231 table games. There are all the blinking lights and ringing buzzers you might expect, plus some of the splashiest carpets I’ve ever seen. An absurdly colorful buffet overlooks the floor, with a spinning wheel of ice cream. I indulged in some brunch-time scoops in a dining area flanked by gigantic topiaries of neon-colored fake flowers.
The resort’s 671 rooms and suites are a bit more subdued, with white-and-beige color palettes. The list of sumptuous bells and whistles includes 507-thread count linens, bedside iPads, and in-bathroom TVs. An Amazon Alexa system designed for the hotel can control lighting, room temperature, entertainment, window coverings, and more.
The Encore’s smallest guest rooms start at $777 per night and measure 650 square feet, which the resort touts as the largest standard hotel accommodations in New England. Some rooms and suites boast views of the city, and of the dock from which the $7 shuttle ferries you to downtown Boston in roughly 15 minutes.
The spa is a welcome change from the sights and sounds of the casino, with plunge pools, saunas, and steam rooms. The New Englander “Journey” is a four-hour treatment with an aromatherapy massage, facial, manicure, and pedicure. I opted for the Good Luck Ritual, which promotes prosperity with a full-body massage, hand-and-foot scrub, and scalp massage. While it was enjoyable, it didn’t bring me enough luck to win big with my self-prescribed $5 gambling allowance. And that’s okay with me. For all its not-to-be-dismissed bumps along the way, the Encore is a legitimately fun adult playground — for gamblers, non-gamblers, and the sometimes strait-laced New Englanders in between.